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Government urged to increase sick pay for those in mandatory quarantine for two weeks

THE government has been called on to provide financial support for people required by law to quarantine themselves for 14 days under the “Test and Trace programme” it launched today.

Many workers could be pushed into financial hardship under the new programme, which requires anyone contacted by the government’s contact tracers to quarantine themselves whether they have coronavirus symptoms or not, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) warned.

Tracers will get in touch with people who have been in “close contact” – within two metres for upwards of 15 minutes – with anyone who has tested positive for Covid-19. An army of 50,000 tracers have been recruited by firms including disgraced privateers Serco and G4S to work with Public Health England.

The TUC is urging the government to raise statutory sick pay (SSP) from £95.85 a week to the real living wage of at least £260 a week.

General secretary Frances O’Grady warned that the new programme will “not be effective” if workers cannot afford to stay at home as two million people aren’t even eligible for SSP. 

“And the self-employed income support scheme must remain in place as a source of financial support for those forced to self-isolate. That’s how to show that we really are all in this together.” 

On March 19, before Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed the lockdown, Ms O’Grady asked Health Secretary Matt Hancock live on BBC Question Time if he could live on SSP. 

He acknowledged that he could not.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth also called for “enhanced” SSP, especially for people contacted numerous times.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is perfectly possible that you could isolate for 14 days, come out, meet somebody else again who’s got the virus and have to go back in.

“So this could be a huge burden for people.”

Mr Ashworth also said that there is currently an “anomaly in the regulations” in that SSP is only triggered when somebody tests positive for Covid-19.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) insisted that SSP can be triggered if someone is required to self-isolate under the new programme, and not just by a positive test result.

A  DWP spokeswoman added: “We’ve made sick pay more generous by starting it from day one and will refund employers with up to 250 staff the cost of up to two weeks’ sick pay.

“Employers can, and many do, pay more than the statutory rate – something we encourage.”

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